It was the first time I received that command: Eat orange, chocolate, milk.
I was a young woman. With long hair. A car of my own.
I had graduated from Berkeley. Was working somewhere.
I lived in a few rooms in an apartment, with my canoe tied up out back, in the little waterway that meandered through that neighborhood.
My life, on the outside, at least, was most ordinary.
Inside, it was a different story.
For a few years, I studied a woman who led a church that followed the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Transcendentalism, it was called.
Nothing outrageous. Nothing strikingly heretical.
Just a general softening of the gospels.
It was a system of thought that I was well aware of.
Even though I was living in California, Emerson was a New England man.
And much beloved.
Right up there with Henry David Thoreau.
They and their little group were like monuments in every New England town’s square.
Although, I imagine, very few people knew why.
I’ll admit that I carried a quiet smile in my heart for Thoreau, for him and his belief in the language of trees.
He was, in a way, our very own Saint Francis of Assisi of the forest.
A fraud. But in New England terms, a saint nonetheless.
So I couldn’t figure out, really, why this strained philosophy was still alive, as it were.
Perhaps it had been resurrected by the hippies.
Perhaps it had quietly been followed by people all this time, some of whom moved to the West Coast.
But, within with my own quiet life, I studied this movement and a woman in it.
I can’t explain to you, or even to me, exactly why.
I attended lectures around the state.
It was on a flight from San Francisco to San Diego for one such series of lectures that I learned about my father.
I sat on the small plane, preparing to take off. A man I recognized (and who recognized me) from these lectures boarded the plane and sat next to me.
He was a most lovely man. With a slight accent.
Where are you from? I asked.
Eritrea, he said.
How amazing! I responded. My father built a military base there.
Your father? What was his name?
Clay Littleton? Clay Littleton? What a small world! My family is originally from Italy. My father went over to Africa during the war to get work. He worked for your father. He loved your father.
How amazing. My father was in charge of building that base. He was building a radio station there for the Army.
No. Your father was building the first submarine tracking system. Your father was a most amazing man.
My father. Who over the years somehow became more and more revealed to me in the oddest of circumstances.
Who went to Africa with my mother and oldest brother, Clay.
Who spent time building an Army base with regular guys, and who, when the Army officers arrived to run the base ordered my father to cease hanging out with the enlisted men.
My father refused.
So he was sent back to the states, to Washington, DC, where he worked on the first translation computer in a deep subbasement in the Pentagon.
Back to the story at hand.
I had gone to these lectures for a while.
It was in one that I was first “recognized.” When a man on the stage, talking, stopped, looked out into the audience, studied me for a bit, and then bowed low.
That was the first time I was grateful that no one there knew me. And I could just leave the building as unnoticed as I had come into it.
It was after one of these talks, when I was eating at a diner with a few others, that I was asked by one of them to stop thinking about me. Apparently I was “scanning” him, and he could actually feel it. So I did. Understood then and there that I could make others uncomfortable with my thoughts about them, and taught myself to rein them in.
(It was my son, my first child, that really did the trick for me. As a baby, he got too used to me “knowing” what was going with him. I saw this, and realized that he needed to learn to ask for things on his own. Cry to be changed, or fed, or held. Communicate in the real world. So I stopped reading him. Or if I got a hit, just ignored it, and let him do the asserting. Sometimes I wonder if he ever forgave me for distancing myself from him like that. Letting him fall and scrape his knees all on his own.)
I kept studying this woman and her movement. Well, Emerson’s movement.
It was no real task that I could see.
But I followed every instruction.
Because obedience was the easiest lesson I ever had to “learn.” It is as natural to me as breathing.
Then the day came.
I was at a 7-Eleven, getting gas. I went inside to pay (which you did in those days). And there it was, the command: Buy and eat orange, chocolate, milk.
I didn’t ordinarily eat such things, and certainly not in the middle of the afternoon. If I had tea, it would be with a cream cracker, a smear of cream cheese, and perhaps some cranberry chutney.
But I thought about it, and looked about.
I think I bought a Nestlé’s Crunch bar. It struck me as not too much chocolate. The other two items were easy to find.
And I consumed them.
Holy food, God said.
Food for visions.
Now, I had been having visions since I was three years old, and this was the first time specific food was ordered beforehand.
In fact, it was a vision that instructed me to eat these three things.
So, I figured, with my bright, little, ever-pokey mind, something must be up.
And it was.
I was to bring a message from God to this woman.
A message. I’m now a messenger.
I somehow let her know that I was coming to see her and speak to her about God.
I think I sent her a card.
I lived in the San Francisco area.
I bought a dress for the occasion, a dress with a soft, green sash.
I would drive to San Diego, to her headquarters.
I learned what I was to say.
That day, before dawn, I showered and braided my hair. This was so that when I arrived, and my hair was dry, I could release the braids and my hair would fall in soft waves.
I drove south. The words going over and over and over in my mind.
When I arrived, I stopped, freshened up and put on the dress.
At the designated time, I drove up to the office.
At no time, could I believe that I was actually doing this.
But I just kept doing it.
I walked into the small building.
And was greeted most warmly.
I was expected.
But there was a problem.
Something had arisen that demanded the woman’s attention.
A young man (younger than myself) had arrived just before me, and she was meeting with him.
(She continued to meet with him all over the place, including her bed, for some time.)
Would you mind coming back tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m., Julia?
No, not at all.
So there I was in San Diego. With my soft dress and my wavy hair. With no place to go.
I could find a room somewhere.
But, first, I would sit and look at the ocean.
So I did.
I watched the sun set over the ocean. I watched the moon rise on the waves. Then I watched the sun rise.
I couldn’t stop watching.
It was like I was seeing God for the first time.
Up close and personal.
And all I could think was, I am off the hook.
I didn’t have to go back and deliver the message.
I just had to dress, drive, and watch the ocean.
So when I was finished with the ocean, I drove home. And never had to have contact with that organization again.
After this “exercise” the real work began. Very serious. Very constant. Very real.
I think of that ocean-watching time as I sit here, tonight, having received that exact same nudge when I went out this afternoon to get gas so I can drive to church in the morning.
Eat orange, chocolate, milk.
I guess it’s that time again.
Something must be up.